For Lao in Minnesota, June is a time to observe Boun Phra Vet, a public festival with Buddhist roots. The key themes of this festival are the importance of compassion and charity. As we mark 30 years since arriving in the US as refugees, there’s much to remember and consider about where we are heading as a society.
Recently, Japanese Americans awarded their 2010 scholarships from the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund to assist Southeast Asian refugee students pursuing college. Established in 1980, nearly 40 years after the forced internment of the Japanese during WWII, the scholarships were created to remember the relocation but also the generosity of those who reached across racial differences and wartime hatred to offer a helping hand.
As I look at the example of the Japanese Americans, and see we’re just a decade away from 40 years in America, I wonder if Lao will be ready to give back to society the way so many generously assisted us when we first came.
While we have many unsung heroes tirelessly working to help others, I think we need to be honest: There are also many who pursue only routes of greed and profit.
In 1994, I attended a speech by the Dalai Lama speaking in Ann Arbor. His words stuck with me: “While you’re gaining an education, be a nice person, be a compassionate person, be yourself. The brain and the heart must go together.” He felt that occasionally in schools, not enough attention was paid to the heart and that a moral sense was left underdeveloped.
There are many lessons you can take away from the Boun Phra Vet festival. The festival celebrates a previous life of the Buddha when he was a prince who gave away everything he had without hesitation or attachment. To me, the key lesson is that so much can be accomplished if we give even a little.
For Lao, with almost 200,000 of us resettled in the US, we have so much potential. If we all gave just $40 a year, that would be $8,000,000 that could be set towards a good cause. Over 10 years, that would be $80 million dollars. If people gave what amounts to a tank of gas or few trips to the movies or a pair of pizzas each year, we could transform so much for the better, considering that the largest community organizations helping the Lao run on barely $300,000 a year. Just half a day’s pay.
Philanthropy isn’t about throwing money on a fire. It’s about seeing a picture of society bigger than just ourselves and our family, and understanding the relationship of everyone’s success and prosperity to our own. Sometimes we see the results right away, sometimes it takes a little time to grow.
As we celebrate Boun Phra Vet, I hope we celebrate happily, but I also hope more of us take time out to ask how much good we can do in the world and do something about it.